The United Kingdom is following closely developments in Belarus, in particular as the country prepares for the Presidential election in August.
In our statement of 21 May to the Permanent Council, we expressed our concern over the arrest and detention of over 100 people, including independent journalists, social media actors, human rights defenders and peaceful protestors. Since then we have continued to witness the harassment and detention of individuals who have been attempting to enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression, of association and of peaceful assembly.
To date, over 400 people have been detained or arrested, with many facing administrative penalties, such as fines, and some facing criminal charges. Those detained include a number of journalists and media workers who were attempting to report on public gatherings, as well as social media actors. As the Representative on Freedom of the Media said in his statement of 20 June, “journalists play a crucial role in covering events of public interest, particularly those related to elections”. We echo his call “to ensure that journalists are able to do their work, to cover and report on public gatherings without fear of being detained.”
Thirty years ago, OSCE participating States solemnly declared that free elections are essential to the full expression of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all human beings. As the Copenhagen Document sets out:
“The participating States declare that the will of the people, freely and fairly expressed through periodic and genuine elections, is the basis of the authority and legitimacy of all government. The participating States will accordingly respect the right of their citizens to take part in the governing of their country, either directly or through representatives freely chosen by them through fair electoral processes.”
In the 1999 Istanbul Summit Declaration, States further committed “to ensure fair competition among candidates as well as parties, including through their access to the media and respect for the right of assembly”.
The United Kingdom is therefore concerned by the detention of Viktar Babaryka, one of the potential presidential candidates, and his son Eduard Babaryka, his campaign manager, on 19 June. We also note with concern the investigation by the Ministry of Internal Affairs into the alleged involvement of another presidential candidate, Valery Tsapkala, in “illegal activities”. We call on the Belarusian authorities to release Mr Babaryka and his son from pre-trial detention and to respect the rule of law, including the right to a fair trial. We also call on the Belarusian authorities to release members of the opposition and civil society who have been subject to arbitrary arrest and detention.
Finally, we remind Belarus of the longstanding commitment to invite observers to elections from other participating States, ODIHR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and appropriate institutions and organizations that wish to observe. We call on Belarus to take steps to ensure that international election observers, including from ODIHR and other organisations, are able to observe the upcoming elections, and in doing so support the democratic development of the State.
The United Kingdom reiterates our support for Belarus’ independence and sovereignty. It is a matter for the people of Belarus to determine their future and how they are governed. As a friend of the Belarusian people, we urge the authorities to take the measures necessary to hold a safe, peaceful, free and fair election, including through the participation of independent observers.